Still Waiting For That Email?

So, having been sick from work for a while, I am slowly getting back in to the swing of things. As I run my own private practice, this includes responding to emails, a task which is usually reasonably quick for me!

However, I am having difficulties with my ISP (internet service Provider) at the moment (they shall remain nameless!) and some of my emails are not being sent, going missing, I am not able to pick up some emails and, perhaps the most frustrating of all, some emails I am being sent are bouncing back to clients, so I am not even getting them!

Whilst I am trying to find fixes for these (oh-so frustrating) issues, I came across this article which was from the Conference Steering Committee for the World Wide Web in Florence, Italy this year, which explains quite a lot as to the difference in responses with some of my clients and colleagues!

Have you ever been frustrated at how slowly (or quickly!) some people reply to your emails? I am one of those people who respond as soon as I am in a position to, as quickly as possible! So, when I have to wait for a response, from a friend, client or colleague, I can become quite eager to see that little red circle with a number in it appear on my email app!

I began to wonder, what is the difference in the speed of replies for emailing people? Is it based on IT skills- would a younger generation respond more quickly, being that email/messaging has been around for most of their lives, or because it plays such an important part in their lives? Or would the older generation be quicker? Seeing it as a politeness issue; non-response would be like ignoring someone? Or maybe every age group felt exactly the same?

The study ‘Evolution of Email Conversations in the Age of Email Overload’ by (Kooti et al., 2015) found a variety of answers to some questions, namely;

  • More than half of the responses contain fewer than 43 words.
  • If people are going to respond to an email, 90 percent will do it within a few days.
  • Responses on the weekends are the shortest.
  • Teens reply the fastest, shooting back a response in 13 minutes, on average.
  • It takes people, ages 35-50, about 24 minutes to reply.
  • People age 51 and older take a whopping 47 minutes to reply to their emails, on average.
  • Women take about four minutes longer than men to send a reply.
  • Only 30 percent of emails exceed 100 words.
  • People aged 20-35 are almost as speedy, sending a reply in 16 minutes, on average.
  • Half fire off a response in under an hour.
  • Want a lengthy reply? Make sure your email arrives in the morning.
  • The most common responses contain five words.

So, what did I learn from that? Well, I learned that people deal with email information (over) load in very different ways! Younger people are quicker at responding, but respond with fewer words- could this be down to the urgency of life when you are younger, or just that fewer words are needed to get your point across? What it didn’t explain, for me, was why some people respond and others don’t? No one likes to be ignored, and not receiving a reply to an email is a way of being ignored. The study also did not stress the importance that we place on emails and responses, only that we do try to respond.

As we get busier and busier, and our working lives’ get more stressful, this study shows that we do still try to answer our emails, but that we answer fewer emails and with fewer words. The main take-away from this, is that if you have an email that you really need a reply to, ensure it is there, bright and early for the recipient to read, when they arrive at work!

But how does this affect us? Does it just mean that when we arrive at work, instead of 10 emails, we are going to arrive to 100? Does it mean that we need to change the way in which we work?

What this boils down to is how much work we have on and how willing we are to prioritize our work- are you good at prioritizing you work? Do you know what is the most important work to get done?

Do you procrastinate and go to the easy to answer emails first? Leaving the harder ones to deal with as the day wears on, and indeed, you wear on? What the study found was that social importance was of higher importance than the actual importance of the content of the emails; so for example, if the email was from a friend at work, we would be more likely to reply to that, than to an email from our boss asking if our work was done. But, does this then add more pressure on us? Are we making our working lives harder?

These are all questions that need to answered by further studies, but I wonder how many of you can empathise with what the study found? Do you feel under more pressure to reply to more and more emails? Do you find that you need to answer emails out of working hours? And, if so, when does that stop?

The pressure can be different for people who run their own business, as for people who ‘traditional’ employees- I know from my own experience, working for myself means that I am never ‘off’ work. So, what can we do to limit the stress?

Well, to start with, we can learn to switch our mobile devices off when we get home from work! I have been doing this for a while now- on days off, evenings and weekends, I will not answer calls/texts/emails from my clients. I am not being rude, I just need to have boundaries that mean I get some time off too! Perhaps that could be a good starting point for you?

Do you give yourself a lunch break? It is really important, during your working day to give yourself a complete break from work; to let your mind rest and recover, to give you the energy to get through the day. It is really easy to just grab a quick sandwich, at your desk, replying to emails or answering phone calls, but are you getting a rest and do you feel like you are getting a break? If you feel that your work is encroaching into your lunch break, make a ‘lunch date’ with friends, try going out for a walk (yes, even in this grotty weather!), or what about sitting in your car for 15 minutes? Something that will mean you are taking your mind off of your work and on to other things!

What about practicing so mindfulness or relaxation at your desk? You could do this in the morning for 10 minutes, or the afternoon, or both! You could even invest in a cheap pair of ear buds, to block out the noise! Anything that relaxes you a little and helps you get through the day is a good thing, wouldn’t you say?

Some colleagues I work with go for a power walk, or yoga session at lunch time; maybe you don’t have the time for that, but at least getting up and having a walk around the office can get you moving and break that habit of sitting there all day!

Finally, what about being kind to yourself? If you get 50+ emails in one day, on top of your daily work, being honest and accepting that you cant possibly answer all of those emails. Yes, I know, it feels rubbish to do that, its like accepting defeat, but is it realistic to expect you to do all of this extra work? If it can’t fit in to your normal working day, perhaps a chat with your boss about your work expectations and the level of work you are getting is needed?

We always expect more of ourselves, but this has to be within sensible limits, doesn’t it? Life isn’t all about work, or at least, I don’t believe it should be, do you? If you are worried about your work/life balance, perhaps it is time to take a look at it. Maybe you can’t reply to all those emails in one day, maybe you shouldn’t have to? But the study above does show us that we need some better management tools to manage our emails, so perhaps it is time we invested in ourselves, our own ‘management tool’ for our working lives?

That said, it is Friday night and time for me to enjoy my weekend! I hope you all have a great weekend; step away from the phone and stop answering your emails! Monday will be here before you know it- surely they can wait until then?


Kooti, F., Aiello, L.M., Grbovic, M., Lerman, K. and Mantrach, A. (2015) ‘Evolution of Conversations in the Age of Email Overload’, Proceedings of the 24th International Conference on World Wide Web, Florence, 603-613.

 

 

 

 

Sometimes, Life just happens!

Hello everyone!

I really hope you are all well, and for those of you in the UK, are enjoying our strangely inclement weather!

I am so sorry for my silence over the past few weeks and months; as I am sure you are all aware, sometimes,  life just gets in the way. I have been very poorly with Pneumonia, and am well on the way to recovery now- thankfully!

My illness has made me incredibly grateful for my family and my very close friends- being sick is never fun, but when you are trying to balance all the stresses and strains of modern life, things can really get to you!

I have been practicing my Mindfulness and Relaxation (have you?) to get me through some particularly rough patches. With Christmas coming, it’s quite common for us to get stressed and irritated with the prospect of so much do organise and do. How about giving a bit of basic Relaxation a try? There are a lot of apps on the App Store and Android Store (even on Youtube) that you could find to help you 🙂

Anyway, this is just a very short post to reconnect and say ‘Hi!’ to you all! I am getting back to working condition, slowly and surely, and will be planning some stress-busting blog tips for the run-up to Christmas!

Have a wonderful weekend, and keep wrapped up!

Wanda

When is a Therapy not a Therapy?

I have been on a lot of training lately- some I have loved, and some I have found less impressive-  the techniques just don’t resonate with me, so I have decided not to adopt them in my therapeutic work. That isn’t to say that the types of therapy do not work, I just don’t see them fitting in to my practice, be it because of a lack of a rigorous scientific background, or I just didn’t like the form of therapy! This got me to thinking- who is to say what works and why? Whilst pondering this (eternal) question, I found a study in the Psychological Bulletin that really intrigued me.

The study is called The Effects of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy as an Anti-Depressive Treatment is Falling: A Meta-Analysis, so perhaps from this, you can see why my interest was piqued! The study is a meta-analysis, which means that they have taken all the studies (between 1977 and 2014) that are about CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) (Johnsen and Friborg, 2015) and have analysed them to produce an overall investigation in to the efficacy (how it is working) of CBT. The results are, interesting, to say the least!

The study tracked the fluctuations in the effectiveness of CBT over time, and what the study found was that CBT appears to becoming less effective over time. This is not good news for the NHS, as this is the main type of therapy that they advocate. So, why does it appear to be falling out of grace, and why?

The study shows that over a period of time, 1977 to 2014, CBT has become roughly half as effective in treating depression as it used to be. I have to say, that from my clinical practice, I am finding that clients are becoming more and more resistant to CBT- in my (limited!) opinion, it is because we are becoming more self aware, and the more self aware we become, the less we can justify it to ourselves. But then, I am just one psychologist and that is my opinion!

One theory that is being bandied around is the idea of the placebo effect, which I am sure you have all heard of. The placebo effect is the idea that if you take a pill for your headache, and you believe it is paracetamol, but it is actually just a sugar pill, that the power of your mind is so strong that you will believe that this ‘tablet’ has made you better and your headache disappears, even though there was no ‘active ingredient’ in the pill you took.

Perhaps, like a popular friend in your network of friends, CBT’s reputation precedes it; the fact that CBT was hailed as a miracle cure, could mean that people really thought it worked (the placebo effect) when in actual fact, it didn’t work as well as was expected.

Part of this theory is about our expectations, which kind of ties in with my theory on the efficacy of CBT- in comparison to when CBT came about, when it was developed by Dr Aaron Beck in the 1960’s, our expectations of life have changed greatly. We are more realistic about life, in general. So, perhaps we do not expect a ‘miracle cure’ anymore? Perhaps we accept that we are who we are, and we can only change things if we want to? Who knows? That, my friends, is another study waiting to happen!

Another theory is that, as any therapy develops and becomes more popular (which is inevitable!), that the number of incompetent or inexperienced therapists applying these techniques increases. This means that the efficacy of the therapy decreases- if you are not attending CBT therapy with an experienced practitioner, it is not going to work as well. It’s like taking your Porsche to the Skoda garage- it’s similar, but not quite the same, and a Porsche has a specialist management system, so a Skoda garage wont be able to give you as good service as the Porsche garage will; although your car may be fixed to a certain extent, there is still work left to do.

Whatever the reason, life has changed and therapy changes with it. Who is to say that the placebo effect can’t actually help? I mean, if CBT works for you, who cares if it is the placebo effect at work? As long as it works, right? The problem though, lies in if it doesn’t work for you because you have been to an inexperienced therapist, or perhaps, as in my experience, you are actually self-aware and you know what is happening for you. Either way, if the only therapy available to you is CBT, and it doesn’t work, what do you do?

Well, the current therapy du jour happens to be mindfulness. Now, I have been using mindfulness for a few years, and just attended a course to brush up on my techniques, learn any new theories and to make sure I am not an inexperienced practitioner! But, is mindfulness just the next buzz word- in 40 years time, will the studies be there to show us that, just like CBT, mindfulness has become less effective also?

Last week I attended training on a course called Havening Techniques®. Yes, yet another new form of therapy. I have not had enough experience with Havening to fully make my mind up about it, which is why I need volunteers to work with. But, this brings in to question, again, the efficacy of a therapy and the placebo effect- who is to say what is right and what is wrong? If a therapy works for you, and a competent therapist is treating you, then does it really matter what the modality of therapy is? Perhaps, in our ever-changing world in which we live in, the changing modality of therapies is actually useful. Perhaps therapy is adjusting to our different lifestyles and expectations in life?

Back when Freud was just at the beginning of his Psychodynamic theory, life was very different. People did not understand how their emotions effected, and affected their lives. The ‘new therapy’ gave us an understanding of what was happening in our lives. But now we understand, we want to solve our problems. And, in true modern fashion, we don’t want to wait; we want to fix them NOW.

Perhaps this is where Havening® could fit in? Dealing with trauma and emotions in a focused way, whilst, at the same time, giving you techniques to practice at home, where you do not have to be an expert? I don’t know, but I do know one thing- I am looking forward to finding out!


 

★ if you have contacted me with regards Havening therapy; I am in the process of writing contracts etc. to begin the therapy. I hope to be in contact with you in the next week or so to book appointments!


Johnsen, T.J. and Friborg, O. (2015) ‘The Effects of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as an Anti-Depressive Treatment is Falling: A Meta-Analysis’, Psychological Bulletin, May.

Being Mindful of Mindfulness!

I was on a Mindfulness course last week- Mindfulness is a really hot topic with Mental Health workers at the moment. I have been working with Mindfulness for around 4 years, so I thought I would scrub up on my techniques and ideas and get back into my Mindful practice for myself!

Did you know that in 2012 there were 40 new papers on mindfulness published every month according to Google Scholar? Guardian journalist Barney Ronay noted that 37 new books had been released that week alone! I think that this demonstrates just how popular mindfulness has become.

Mindfulness, the act of paying attention, in a non-judgmental way, to ones own experiences of the here and now. So, what exactly does that mean? Well, exactly what it says- paying attention to what is happening to you, around you, in the moment that you notice them.

Whenever anyone is going on a mindfulness course, the first thing people who are experienced in mindfulness will say to him or her is “Wait until you do the raisin exercise!” What? What on earth is that? Well, a good way to explain mindfulness is to take a raisin. Don’t eat it- you are jumping the gun there! Hold it in your hand. Have you ever really looked at a raisin? Have you noticed the colours? Have you held it up to the light and looked at the brown and amber hues that are in front of you? Have you ever looked at the creases, the ridges, and the folds? The size of the raisin or the shape of it? Have you felt it between your fingers? Is it squishy? Hard? Smooth? Textured?

No? I am sure you haven’t. Not really. Not closely.

Well, let’s not stop there! Pick up the raisin. Put it to your ear. Do you hear anything? No, of course you don’t, but then roll the raisin between your fingers. Can you hear the squeakiness of the raisin now? The slight grinding as you roll the raisin between your fingers?

Take the raisin and hold it up to your nose. Take a deep breathe in- can you smell it? What does it remind you of? Christmas cake? Cinnamon rolls? Is it a slight smell, or pungent?

Now, put the raisin in your mouth- but don’t chew it or swallow it! Roll it around in your mouth and really feel it. Put it between your teeth, give it a little squeeze. Can you feel the textures and the taste starting to spread? Gently chew the raisin, experience the flavour. Is it sweet? Bitter? Finally, swallow.

Now. I bet you haven’t experienced a raisin like that before, have you? You could do the same with making a cup of tea or brushing your teeth- any activity that you do during the day, that you can break down and really pay attention too!

So, what on earth has fiddling with a raisin for the last 10 minutes done for you, eh? Well, by exercising all of your five senses, your cortisol level has decreased (stress hormone) and you will feel calmer than you did before you started. By looking at things from a visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, gustatory and olfactory sense (see, hear, touch, taste, smell!) you have brought yourself into the present moment. You are not thinking of that annoying colleague today at work and you are not thinking of all the work you need to do tonight to prepare for tomorrow. You are in the moment, and that moment is peaceful and calm.

So, by practising this every day (for those of you in the know, it is VAKGO. Yep, snazzy, eh?) we can just stop what is happening, take a few minutes out of life to relax and calm down, before we go on to the next busy period of the day.

So, how exactly does being mindful, which can actually be a personality trait anyway, actually be beneficial? A study in 2011 suggests that

Evidence suggests that mindfulness practice is associated with neuroplastic changes in the anterior cingulate cortex, insula, temporo-parietal junction, fronto-limbic network, and default mode network structures” (Hölzel et al., 2011)

Say, what?! Well, what this means is that by practicing mindfulness, area’s of the brain, associated with neuroplastic changes (referring to changes in neural pathways and synapses that occur due to changes in behavior, environment, neural processes, thinking, and emotions – as well as to changes resulting from bodily injury) in areas of the brain that are responsible for attention, focus and regulation. Simply put, by utilizing mindfulness you can actually change the structure of your brain (the area’s that are ‘plastic’) for your benefit; to increase your sense of personal perspective awareness, your attention and focus, your emotional regulation and your body awareness.

Nah, that’s not real. Once your born, your brain doesn’t change. Well, actually it does- as we grow so does our brain. Our neural pathways and synapses develop and change, according to our environment, what we learn, what we don’t learn and genetics. So, if we train our brain to be present in the moment, really present, we can grow the area that we use to focus and pay attention. What magic is this, I hear you ask? Well, it is simply the wonder of the human mind- although science has come along way over the last 100 years, we still do not really know how the brain functions; we are learning more every week.

So, if mindfulness is so magic, why isn’t everyone doing it? Well, I cannot answer that one, I am afraid! What I can say is that mindfulness is NOT a cure all. It is a technique you can use to develop and enhance your day-to-day life. In fact, there are studies available that say certain people should not practice mindfulness; a study in 2012 concluded that there was not enough data available to fully analyse who should or should not partake in mindfulness meditation or therapy, but that people for whom there are deep-seated mental health difficulties or long term psychological affects, mindfulness meditation may not be appropriate (Dobkin, Irving and Amar, 2012).

The reason that mindfulness may not be appropriate for some people is that the act of mindfulness takes us deep in to meditation- by doing so, we are relaxing and allowing ourselves to be in the moment. If you have any traumatic experiences that you perhaps haven’t dealt with, or that still trouble you, the by going in to the mindful state can reduce your inhibitions, and the safety mechanisms, the defence mechanisms you have in place, to protect you from your difficult thoughts, are suddenly lowered, which can leave you in a very troubled place.

So, this blog then becomes a cautionary tale! Mindfulness, to some, seems like it is a waste of time, however, this is not what we are seeing from the studies that are coming out. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression and to help with many other issues people have. However, it is not a one size fits all therapeutic achievement. In fact, if you are not in the right place in your life, in the right state of mind, mindfulness could in fact be quite dangerous for you- raising traumatic memories that you have repressed, hidden deep down or simply memories that you actually don’t want to, or can’t, deal with. Mindfulness is not the be all and end all that we originally thought it to be, the studies are showing this, but. That said, it could really work for some people.

So, if you are having difficulty sleeping, or are feeling stressed from your busy life, why not take 10 minutes out of your busy day to practice some mindfulness meditation (as long as you are not in the group of people discussed above, for whom mindfulness is contradictive!)? It doesn’t have to be the raisin, although, why not? Perhaps you are just going to use the VAKGO to notice what is going on around you, or you are just going to close your eyes and concentrate on your breath. In and out, slowly, clearly, purposefully. You never know. After 10 minutes of it, you may feel like a whole new person!


 

Dobkin, P.L., Irving, J.A. and Amar, S. (2012) ‘For Whom May Participation in a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program be Contraindicated?’, Mindfulness, vol. 3, no. 1, March, pp. 44-50.

Hölzel, B.K., Lazar, S.W., Gard, T., Zev, S.O., Vago, D.R. and Ott, U. (2011) ‘How Does Mindfulness Meditation Work? Proposing Mechanisms of Action From a Conceptual and Neural Perspective’, Perspectives on Psychological Science, vol. 6, no. 6, November, pp. 537-559.

 

 

Procrastination- What Are You Waiting For?

Procrastination. We all do it at some time or another. I know I have- if there is a deadline for an assignment, you will always find me playing a game, or anything to avoid the inevitable! But, I always start with just enough time to get it done. For some people, procrastination is far more stressful- it really affects their lives and can change things for the worse.

So, why do we procrastinate? And does it do us any harm? I read a study posted in the Association of Psychological Science last month, the study stated that procrastination, or rather Trait Procrastination– the tendency to delay important tasks despite the negative consequences- was significantly associated with hypertension and cardiovascular disease (Sirois, 2015). So, although this study highlighted that procrastination was associated with hypertension and cardiovascular disease, it did not provide a causal link- phew, all you procrastinators out there, we can breathe a sigh of relief. For the moment.

20% of people identify as chronic procrastinators (Marano, 2003); meaning that procrastination cuts across all aspects of their lives, from paying bills on time to filing tax returns. Luckily for me, my procrastination only seems to affect writing reports and studies (and yes, this blog, too!), but for other people, procrastination can be literally life ruining.

Chronic procrastination is not a problem of time management, believe it or not! Procrastinators are actually more optimistic than other people- they genuinely believe they will get the work/project/bill paid completed in time! We are also not born procrastinators- procrastination is a learned habit, generally from our familial habits, albeit not directly from our families- it is generally our own responses to being raised within an authoritarian lifestyle.

So, for example, having a harshly authoritarian father will keep you from developing an ability to regulate yourself, by internalizing their own intentions and then learning to act on them. Procrastination can also be a form of rebellion- one of the only ways we feel we can act out within our familial situation. Sometimes parental support is not there, so we tend to look to our friends for support. Now, the thing with friends is that they tolerate our BS, don’t they? They don’t call us on it when we say ‘yeah, sorry, my dog ate my homework’. They empathise with us and let it go- thus reinforcing our procrastination techniques and habits.

Situational procrastinators, on the other hand, make delays based on the task at hand. Procrastination becomes a form of self-regulation failure- you know you should do it, but you just can’t bring yourself to do it, for whatever reason it is, you just cannot get around to doing it, till it is either too late, or it has caused you a problem.

What wont come as a surprise, is that procrastinators actively look for distractions! I remember writing my dissertation and finding that the whole house was ‘desperately’ in need of a clean before I started the work! The thing is, procrastinators tell themselves lies- we say ‘I work best under pressure’ or ‘its not important, I have plenty of time to do it if I start tomorrow’. So, what happens is, procrastinators run out of time- the work that is produced is not of a high enough standard, or we missed buying those bargain tickets to the next gig we wanted to go to.

It may also surprise you to know, that there are three different types of basic procrastinators;

  • The first type is the ‘avoiders’- avoiding fear of failure or fear of success. They would rather that people think they lacked effort than ability.
  • The second type is the decisional procrastinators- when you find it difficult to make a decision. You know, when your friends or partner say ‘where would you like to go for dinner?’ and your response is ‘I really don’t mind’.
  • The third type is ‘arousal type’ of procrastinator- the thrill seekers who are waiting for the last minute for the rush of adrenaline they experience.

So, have you identified which type of procrastinator you are? Are you a chronic procrastinator, or just a casual one- procrastinating in one field or area only? But hey, there’s no problem with procrastination, is there? It doesn’t really matter? Well, actually, that is not true. As I said earlier, there is a study that links procrastination to heart problems, but there is also evidence that procrastination harms the immune system- over the course of one academic term, college students who procrastinated suffered more colds, suffered from insomnia, suffered more gastrointestinal issues and more cases of flu.

Procrastinators have higher levels of stress and lower levels of emotional and harmonial wellbeing. Joseph Ferrari, Professor of Psychology at DePaul University in the USA found that ‘everybody may procrastinate, but not everyone is a procrastinator’ (so, there is hope for me after all!). The Professor says ‘telling someone who procrastinates to just do it, is like telling someone with chronic depression to cheer up’ (Ferrari, 2010). So, what can we do then?

Well, the current level of thinking is that what lies behind a procrastinator’s thought patterns are actually based on our Emotional Regulation. If we can regulate our emotions, and deal with them, then we can stay on task. If we are not enjoying the task, we are more lightly to procrastinate. Ok, so, that’s fine, but as humans, we need to do things on a weekly or daily basis that we don’t want to do, or that we don’t enjoy. So, how can we go about changing ourselves, to reduce our stress and make ourselves feel more harmonious, and less likely to get sick?

One thought of how to do this, is to try to make your current mood a positive one- if we handle this situation well, then our ‘future self’ will be better equipped to deal with these issues in the future (Wohl, Pychyl and Bennett, 2010). Sounds simple, but how do we go about doing it?

One-way could be through Counselling- by attending Counselling we can help the client to realise that they are compromising their long-term goals and aims for short term happiness. Perhaps there is a way that we may feel like we are punishing ourselves for past transgressions- until we open up the emotions and reasons why a client procrastinates, then we cant really get to the core of what we can do to stop it, or improve the situation.

Mindfulness therapy can be really helpful with this- by really appreciating the current moment, and not thinking so far in to the future. By learning Mindfulness skills, you can really put yourself in the present moment and appreciate that moment for what it is. Perhaps then, you can possibly see the damage that procrastination is doing to your self, your stress levels and your ability to actually ‘get the job done’.

Secondly, the procrastinator could split their goal down to smaller tasks- this is basic CBT and can be achieved by you or with the help of a Counsellor. Finding and exploring ways in which you can work with your procrastination can be difficult to see or achieve; sometimes it is only when we talk to some one else about what we are doing, that we really see what is going on before our eyes. After all, as I said earlier, our friends kind of let us get away with our procrastination, a Counsellor will not. We wont be mean or cruel, but we will challenge your beliefs and expectations; that’s our job, it’s what we are good at and we do it in a way that is safe and guided by you.

You could also start by imposing your own personal goals and deadlines- if your bill is due to be paid on the 30th of the month, start splitting the task down at the beginning of the month. Start small; with achievable steps that you can tick off when they’re done- nothing encourages us to carry on with our goals than when we actually start to see results!

Emotionally, this can be a slightly tougher nut to crack- you’re going to need to find something positive in the task that you are trying to achieve, which could lead us back to breaking the task down to smaller components and allowing ourselves to be proud of our achievements, not matter how small or trivial they may seem. When it comes to our loved ones, perhaps it is a good idea to not let their procrastination go- challenge them, did the dog really eat your homework, or could you just not be bothered?

But the key to procrastination could be as simple as self-forgiveness- forgive yourself for procrastinating and acknowledge the fact that you did procrastinate. The next time, maybe you will find yourself actually doing the work a little quicker, and hitting your goals and achievements on time.

 


 

Ferrari, J.R. (2010) Still Procrastinating? The No Regrets Guide to Getting It Done., 1st edition, Hoboken: Wiley.

Marano, H.E (2003) Procrastination Psychology Today; https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200308/procrastination-ten-things-know. Accessed May 2015

Sirois, F.M. (2015) ‘s procrastination a vulnerability factor for hypertension and cardiovascular disease? Testing an extension of the procrastination–health model’, Journal of Behavioral Medicine, vol. 1, no. 12.

Wohl, M.J.A., Pychyl, T.A. and Bennett, S.H. (2010) ‘I forgive myself, now I can study: How self-forgiveness for procrastinating can reduce future procrastination.’, Personality and Individual Differences, vol. 48, pp. 803-808.

It’s May Day- Time To Break The Rules!

I spent the whole day in London, UK today. As I was leaving, there were crowds and crowds of people; traffic was snarled up and it was getting noisy. I had totally forgotten that today was May Day, and, as per the usual tradition, demonstrations were going on in our capitol. The voices were so loud- everyone there seemed to be clear about one thing; what they wanted.

It made me wonder, are we always clear about what we want? I know we like to think that we are, but are we, really? When it comes down to it, don’t a lot of us honestly think that people are mind readers- if we have been upset by something, we expect people to guess at what has upset us! It is then difficult to have a conversation; if you think you know what the other person means or intended, when actually, you’ve got it quite wrong! Does this ever happen to you? Maybe you have noticed that other people do it to you? Are we really being clear about what we want, or are we just hoping that others guess?

Relationships can be difficult, even at the best of times! Our relationships with out friends, partners and family are all different. The way we communicate with these people may also be different! We have expectations of people, and ourselves, that sometimes, just really aren’t sensible! Do you think that anger is a negative emotion? Do you think that it’s best to hold your anger in?

Well, it may (or may not!) surprise you to know that, actually, anger can be a very cathartic emotion! By expressing our anger, we are communicating our displeasure and upset to others- no need for mind reading here! If we bottle up our anger, we can become resentful; we expect people to know why we are angry (there’s the mind reading again!) and we don’t necessarily give them a chance to communicate with us about what is wrong!

If we supress our anger, we are a bit like a bottle of pop (no advertising here!) that has been shaken and shaken- when we take off the lid, the pop is going to explode outwards! Does that sound familiar to any of you? By supressing your anger, it can lead to your emotions coming out in other ways- sometimes by verbal explosion, sometimes physical, but none of them particularly helpful! So, what to do? Well, when you first start to get angry, I would suggest that this is the point at which you should express your anger- don’t wait until it builds up and leads to resentment. Violence, physical or verbal abuse is never the answer to being angry- perhaps dealing with your anger before it gets to tipping point, could help you to control the other emotions that spill out, when your anger gets too much.

Sometimes, we bottle up our anger and emotions, because that is what we were taught to do- from an early age! As we are born and grow, we are constantly surrounded by rules- some of them are there for good reason (don’t cross the road on a red light, for example!), but some of them are rules we have kind of inherited along the way. Did your parents ever teach you that ‘if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all’? This is an example of what we term ‘Rules for Living’ and is a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy concept- sometimes our rules for living are just too difficult to live by; sometimes we need to soften them, to make things easier.

If you have a rule of ‘I must always be liked’, well, that’s a difficult rule to adhere to! Not everyone in this world can like everybody else, so, when your rule is broken, and somebody doesn’t like you (for whatever reason!), how does it make you feel? Do you feel good about it? Or do you feel terrible, guilty, and anxious or any other number of emotions? This is a very rigid rule to hold dear- perhaps you learnt it from your parents, or from school, church, your friends, the newspaper or social media. Wherever you have learnt it from, it isn’t helping you to get what you want in life- happiness. So, what can we do about it?

There are a number of things we need to do;

  • What is your rule? In this example, I am going to use the rule that ‘I must always be on time’
  • Where did the rule come from? In this case, we will assume parents (sorry Mum and Dad!)
  • Is your rule realistic? Is it reasonable? Is it achievable? No- sometimes you can’t help but be late- for example traffic queues. So this means it is not achievable.
  • What are the negative consequences of this rule- how does it impact your life? It makes me stressed all the time- I am constantly rushing around to be on time everywhere!

The rule came from our parents, who would always tell us to be on time as it is incredibly rude to be late, and only naughty people are late. As we have lived with this rule through growing up, it is something that we hold dear to us- after all, Mum and Dad are always right, aren’t they? This rule was then enforced when you went to school- remember being late for a class? Getting detention because you weren’t on time? Then you go to work, and the rule is again reinforced- it is wrong to be late!

But the thing is, life isn’t always straightforward- you’re rushing to get out of the house to meet friends for a play-date and the baby tips their milk all over them; which means that you need to change their clothes, making you late! There was a traffic accident on the way to your interview. The train was delayed. These are things that are simply beyond your control- you cannot change these. So, as you can see- being on time, always, is not reasonable rules to have- complications arise and for reasons beyond our control, sometimes, we are late!

So, what are the negative consequences of holding on tight to this rule? Well, rushing around to be on time all the time- how stressful is that? When you are late, and there is nothing you can do- do you beat yourself up about it? Do you feel cross and angry that you were late? What other negative impacts does your rule have on you?

Now you’ve worked out that your rule for living actually are hindering your goal in life- to be happy- what can you do about them? Well, you can do what we call to ‘soften’ the rules- turn a rule into a guideline. Be kinder to yourself and accept that sometimes, you just cannot be on time. Softening your rule from ‘I must always be on time’ to ‘I will try to be on time, but sometimes, this will not happen and I am ok with that’.

I am not saying this is easy to do, and it does take practice, but by doing this, you can make stressful or unpleasant situations a little easier for yourself. By softening your rules, you are hopefully not going to get as angry, and that bottle of pop isn’t going to explode everywhere! It seems so simple to do, but the tricky part here, is actually recognising your rules and working out how they affect you! We cant expect others to change for us, or to have the same rules for living that we do, but by softening our rules, it makes living with them much easier.

So, what’s stopping you? What are your rules and how do you think they are stopping you from getting what you want? It might not be happiness you are after; perhaps it is just not expecting everyone you meet to be polite. By making little changes to our lifestyles, we are making massive changes to our lives, and, over time, hopefully making our relationships and the way we deal with problems, a little better and a little easier!

Laughter- the friendly medicine.

So, tonight is going to be a really quick blog post- I have been training all day and am shattered (remember back to a previous blog where I said it was ‘ok’ to give yourself a break? Well, this is it!). I will be writing about my training today in next week’s blog though- so look forward to a long in depth article then!

I was working this week with a new client- new client’s are always interesting, as you don’t know their story and it is a ‘process’ to develop a rapport with your client, into what we called the ‘working alliance’ (Clarkson, 2003). The Working Alliance is basically a term for the way in which we work with our clients- in order for you to tell me about yourself, we have to get on, you have to engage with me enough to feel comfortable enough to talk about issues that can be very challenging.

Now, notice how I didn’t say ‘we’ need to engage with each other? As a therapist, my work is all about engaging with you, as the client. I am ready from the moment you walk through that door- you could tell me the very worst thing in the world, and I will openly accept, listen and empathise with you. You don’t even have to know me. That is my job. As a therapist, I am a keen listener and what a therapist does do, is to afford you Unconditional positive regard (Rogers, 1951)- that whatever you say to me, whatever your experience is, even though I many have never experienced it myself, I can listen to you without judgement. Accepting all that you tell me and actually caring about it, too.

As a therapist, I am ethically bound to be empathetic and congruent to you, as a client. What this means, is that I am open to what you say, and am listening- I can understand and imagine, or empathise with you about how that must feel and how difficult/challenging/funny/scary it is. After all, it is about being genuine and if I am not genuine with you and honest, how could you hope to gain anything from our meeting?

These are the core conditions of my training- I hope it is what makes me an understanding and empathetic therapist. But, sometimes, for some clients, this isn’t enough. They still experience difficulty in the therapy room and it can take some time to get to know each other well enough, for you to feel like you can open up to me. And you know what? That is fine. It is ok to take your time!

I was reading a study about how, after laughing, we are more inclined to open up and tell others personal details about ourselves (Gray, Parkinson and & Dunbar, 2015)- the study used groups of participants, who were each shown a different video, prior to writing down five pieces of personal information about themselves, which they were prepared to share with their companions. They were shown either a comedy clip, an uplifting but sobering clip or a neutral clip from an instructional golf video.

The only difference in their reactions was laughter. I remember doing a similar experiment during my Psychology degree, except we were measuring our heart rate. Laughing, for obvious reasons raised our heart rate. I remember thinking, well, how can this be linked to anything interestingly Psychological? But here it is- the laughter made that group of participants share more intimate details about themselves than the other clips.

So, I guess you will be wondering, what does that have to do with being in the therapy room and talking about yourself? Well, as therapists, we are only human, you know. We smile, we joke and we are guilty of laughing at the wrong thing, sometimes. So, perhaps, when sharing our information, a more light-hearted approach could be used? Maybe we should share a joke or two, before we start our sessions? I know that, the longer I see you for, the more we talk about, the more we exchange pleasantries and the more we will laugh or smile at the beginning, middle and end of a session. So, I guess, laughter does actually bring us closer together- it helps us to feel comfortable with the person we are with. I imagine, that laughter is a great leveller for all people.

It has been found that when we disclose information about ourselves, it increases liking of us in the other person, and increased liking increases the likelihood of laughter. Increased liking leads to further self-disclosure and before you know it, you are part of a disclosure liking cycle! (Collins and Milner, 1994) So you can see how talking about ourselves, liking and laughter all go together hand in hand.

Unfortunately there is also an opposite cycle where by fear of rejection in the face of disclosing prevents disclosure – leading to increased isolation, loneliness and depression. (Wei, Russell and Zakalik, 2005). The thing is, in therapy, I won’t reject you. I won’t laugh if it’s not funny and I won’t make you feel bad about a decision you regret.

So if you are feeling low, and someone invites you out somewhere, and you don’t really feel up to it, you need to ask yourself a question. Which cycle do you want to ride? The fun bike to town? Or the same one you have been riding in the rut you have been stuck in?

The flip side to this, I would assume, is when we are out and about socialising. Perhaps if we are giggling too much, we relax too much and allow ourselves to say things we didn’t mean to? Perhaps it isn’t just ‘all the alcohol talking’. The study described how laughing could be a ‘social lubricant’. By the very nature of therapy, this seems to go against the grain; after all, I am supposed to be empathic and congruent towards you. But, perhaps you would like to see me laugh or smile? Maybe that makes me more real to you? Whatever it is, and however we are in the therapy room, I am there for you and we can talk and develop a rapport; even if we don’t laugh!


 

 

Clarkson, P. (2003) The Therapeutic Relationship, London: Whurr Publishers.

Collins, N.L. and Milner, L.C. (1994) ‘Self Disclosure and liking; A Meta-analytic review’, Psychological Bulletin, vol. 116, no. 3, pp. 457-475.

Gray, A., Parkinson, B. and & Dunbar, R. (2015) ‘Laughter’s Influence on the Intimacy of Self-Disclosure’, Human Nature, vol. 26, no. 1, March, pp. 28-43.

Rogers, C. (1951) Client Centered Therapy, London: Constable.

Wei, M., Russell, D. and Zakalik, R. (2005) ‘Adult Attachment, Social Self Efficacy, Self disclosure, Loneliness, and subsequent Depression for Freshman College Students; A Longditudinal Study’, Journal of Counselling Psychology, vol. 52, no. 4, pp. 602-614.

 

 

 

“It’s Society’s Crime, Not Ours!”*

I was reading some fluffy ladies magazines this week (research, you understand!) when I was quite astounded by the way we view people in everyday life. I have young children, and already, by the time they are 5, they already know that they should be ‘thin’ and that why are some of their classmates even thinner than they are.

So, I was really interested to read this study I found, about age differences and body size stereotyping in preschool girls (Harriger, 2014)- 102 girls from the age of three to five were asked to consider twelve adjectives (six positive and six negative), and to allocate one of these adjectives to one of three females they were presented with. One female was very thin, one was very fat and the final female was average size. There were no other differences between these females.

The result, which I suppose should be unsurprising, is that the three, four and five year old girls ALL ascribed more of the negative adjectives to the fat female and the more positive adjectives to the very thin female.

The second part of the study was for the children to look at nine figures (three fat, three thin and three average) and to choose who their first three preferences would be for playmates, and then to choose a best friend from the selection of nine figures.

Children of all ages tended to choose the thin figure as their first choice, a thin or average person for their second choice and had no bias choices when ascribing their third playmate. However, best friend choices always tended to be the thin figure.

Surprisingly, the three year olds showed more of a bias towards thin figures, as opposed to a bias against fat figures- fat prejudice would appear to grow with age.

Now, this study was only in America, with young girls, so the study would need to be replicated world wide and to include boys into the demographic, but it makes for sobering reading, doesn’t it? The fact that even by the age of three, young girls are conditioned to prefer the company, and appearance of thin people.

Another article I read, just this morning, was from the Guardian newspaper, which suggests that thin people are more likely to suffer from dementia than larger people (Bosely, 2015). Wait just a moment. Hang on there- so; being thin might not be a good idea in the long term? So, another article I read, states that being overweight means that you will find it more difficult to get a job, due to fat bias, fearing that fat people are ‘lazy’ (Parry, 2015). Ok, what is going on here then? Am I supposed to be fat or am I supposed to be thin? Which one is it World? Come on, I AM WAITING!!!

Whichever size you are, surely what matters is how people respond to you; and herein lies the problem. People judge people, all the time. We can’t help it. Even the most non-judgemental person in the world has their bad days, or a subject that strikes a chord with them. But what about tolerance? What about caring for others?

The fact that three year old girls find thin people more acceptable than fat people shows a huge flaw in our society- no matter how much we want to be thin, for some people, for whatever reasons, that might just not happen. The same can be said for thin people- perhaps they wish they were a little larger, but can’t put on the weight.

I feel sadness for young people in this technological society- they can’t win. As demonstrated by the two different newspaper articles- you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. When the newspapers get hold of a picture of a celebrity, on the beach, not looking their best, the headlines scream offensive comments about bulges, wobbly thighs, stretch marks and cellulite. The next day, the same celebrity is on the newsstands again, but this time, she is wearing a beautiful dress, showing off how thin she is- and the newspapers mock her for being too thin, and that she should put on more weight.

Our young people are bombarded by this media, 24/7 (yes, when you think your son/daughter is in bed sleeping, they are on Snapchat, Instagram or Oovoo with their friends, sharing pictures and stories and further perpetuating the beauty myth) and it is relentless people! The pressure on our young people, to be thin, to get a job, to get good grades, to get a partner, is immense. Somewhere along the line, we need to give them a break and support them to understand that we are all different and that is ok.

Some people, however, are taking a stand, and saying “NO” to the fat shaming- Plus size models such as Tess Holliday (@Tess_holliday) are standing up for women, in particular, and saying that my shape, your shape, their shape- it’s all ok! #effyourbeautystandards has become a moniker for the disaffected and is gathering momentum, which is vital when fighting societal prejudice!

So perhaps we need to start to normalise bodies at a much younger age- a thigh gap may not be achievable for your body frame, no matter how hard you try. Perhaps, like Kim Kardashian, you will always be a ‘shapely’ figure. Or perhaps you will always be as thin as Nicole Richie. I am not in any way saying that these women are healthy or not, or that they do or do not have issues with food or eating; I am merely commenting on their shape and size. And what I am saying is that both shape types are normal for society- some people are naturally curvy, and some people are naturally very thin.

As with anything, there are varying degrees of normal, whether you are on the lighter side of the scale, or the heavier- what is important, is body confidence and how you feel (health, is of course a big issue and I am not denying it’s importance). We need to ensure that our children are healthy, yes, but also that they see the differences in people, and that all differences are normal. Whether it is your weight, your religion or your sexuality- we are all NORMAL here!

These prejudices are a function of society and as such there is an aspect that you may not have considered. If there is a societal prejudice that an overweight person will be less competent than a thin person, this prejudice will also be held by overweight people, leading to an undermining of self-confidence in their abilities.

So I guess, the challenge for us all, will be to question the way we think about people we know, especially when they are acquaintances, rather than friends, and ask ourselves “Am I really being fair in my mind, whether it is conscious or not, as to what I am thinking and saying to that thin/fat person? Am I really crediting them with the skills that they actually have?” And more to the point, am I being fair to myself? Because this, being kind to yourself and increasing your self-confidence, can be hard to achieve.


 

 

Bosely, S. (2015) Society pages, 10 April, [Online], Available: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/apr/10/underweight-people-face-significantly-higher-risk-of-dementia-study-suggests [10 April 2015].

Harriger, J. (2014) ‘Age Differences in Body Size Stereotyping in a Sample of Preschool Girls’, Eating Disorders, vol. 23, no. 2, pp. 177-190.

Parry, L. (2015) Mail Online, 8 April, [Online], Available: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-3030815/Overweight-needn-t-bother-applying-job-Nearly-half-employers-unlikely-hire-fat-workers-fear-lazy.html [10 April 2015].

* Quote from Montegue Withnail, 1969

 

 

 

 

 

A Blog so Taboo, you probably won’t think it’s about you!

Menopause. We don’t want to say the word, never mind discuss the connotations we have with it- but why? What is so taboo about such a natural process and why do we find it so difficult to talk about?

When I attended my training day, I realised that even at the age of 38 (I know, I know, I don’t look it!), I hadn’t discussed the menopause with any of my peers- there is a perception that it is something that is going to happen to us, in the distant future!

But, what if it doesn’t? What if it happens when I am 39, and I haven’t had time to talk about it with anyone? Early onset menopause can happen at any age- yes, it is unusual, but it is defined as happening before the age of 45. 45. That seems really young to me right now, but I am sure that to my peers in their late 20’s/early 30’s, it seems a long way off!

So, why do we need to talk about the menopause? As men, why do you need to talk about the menopause, or even know anything about it? Well, if you’re in a committed relationship when your female partner (generally) reaches the age of 48-55, you will generally be facing the menopause together. Generally speaking!

I wonder what your experience of menopause is? Was it talked about as a child/teenager growing up? Did you/do you recognise your mums menopause? Was it a positive experience or a negative one? For me, it was an interesting time, to say the least! What about you?

Menopause can be life changing, for both of you. For the women, there can be a whole range of symptoms- hot flushes, being the one we hear most about. But, what about the others? Well, firstly there is the peri-menopause. Who has heard of that? Come on, hands up! Just as I thought, not many of you. The peri-menopause can last for up to 10 years before you have your final period. That’s a long, long time. In this time, your hormone levels begin to change and drop. Remember your teenage years, when your hormones were gearing up? Remember the emotions and the feelings you went through. Yeah, so it could be like that. It might not be, but it’s certainly something to think about.

Then, there comes the menopause itself. Again, the symptoms can last for years- it is a unique experience for each of us! Menstruation ceases, hot flushes, headaches, hair thinning, mood swings, weight gain, memory loss, depression, anxiety attacks, loss of sexual desire (libido) and a general dissatisfaction in life itself. That is a hell of a lot to be dealing with, particularly if you are bringing up teens, working and trying to maintain your relationship with your significant other.

But what if you are in your 20’s or 30’s and you have early onset menopause? What then? Where is the support? How do you deal with it? Like I’ve already said, it is a taboo in our society, so who are you going to talk to? It’s not Ghostbusters, that’s for sure.

Women who go through an early menopause can go through an even greater range of mixed emotions; after all, what was the cause of their menopause? Was it surgical, natural or chemical? Perhaps they didn’t have a choice, and are left with feelings of loss- their child-bearing years have been stolen away from them; feelings of being ‘old’ before your time; feeling that it is unfair- why did it have to happen to me? And of course, the emotions that come along when you are actually in the menopause- was it because you had to have a hysterectomy for a medical reason? Was it natural- before you even expected it to happen? Or was it due to chemical experience- chemotherapy for cancer, for example.

In the UK, 8 out of 10 women experience symptoms leading up to the menopausal phase- 45% of these women find the symptoms difficult to manage (Brayne, 2011). 1/3 of women lose interest in sex during the peri-menopause and 40% lose interest in sex during the menopause.

Now I’ve got your attention. Sex. Lack of. That’s going to affect everyone in the relationship.

No matter what age you start your menopause, as you can see from the list of symptoms; there is a lot going on. It doesn’t mean that you will experience these symptoms- all of them or any of them- but there is a fair chance you might.

And in amongst this, life goes on. You have to sit in the meeting at work, suffering from your hot flushes. You have to pick up your teenagers, even though you are feeling so tired from a lack of sleep. Your partner, be they male or female, doesn’t understand what has happened. You have changed over night- what did they do wrong?

Alexandra Pope, an author and workshop facilitator has found that if you have had traumatic life issues, prior to going through the menopause, if these have not been resolved, then it can lead to a harder time during the menopause. Perhaps the message here is self-care; we need to make sure that we are emotionally coherent, even if we are not about to go through the menopause!

What is important, despite the taboos, despite how uncomfortable it is, is that you talk about what is going on for you. Why have you suddenly started sleeping far away from your partner- explain that it is because you get hot at night and laying next to your partner makes you hotter. Why are your moods fluctuating, when they didn’t before? How is this affecting your relationship?

Many women describe a feeling of ‘powerlessness’ over their bodies- this is happening TO them, and they have no control over what is going on. How frustrating- to be in the middle of a mood swing and totally aware that you don’t want to be! Perhaps this is putting pressure on your relationship- your family doesn’t understand what is going on for you, and why should they? We don’t talk about menopause- it is something we dread and avoid from a young age. It isn’t something that we can control, and most people do not like feeling out of control.

So, what can we do about it? Well, some women choose HRT therapy, but that can have consequences of it’s own. If HRT is the way forward for you- talk to your doctor, talk to your friends. What is their experience of it? Ok, it might not be your experience, but it will give you a good idea of what may happen. Perhaps you want to follow a natural path- if so, what support can you get? Are there relaxation techniques you can learn? A book you can read, a support group you can join?

It’s time we didn’t look at the menopause as a taboo subject- it’s going to happen to every woman, at some time, but it’s how we choose to deal with it that makes the difference.

For me, I am feeling more prepared about my ‘change’ when it happens to me. At least I know what is going to happen and why, and I can understand that I may need some support to get through this, and that’s ok. Things are going to change, but they don’t have to change for the worse! How about you? Are you prepared for the change in your life? Do you want to be?


Brayne, S. (2011) Sex, Meaning and the Menopause, 1st edition, London: Continuum.

www.relate.org.uk (relationship therapy)

www.simplyhormones.com

www.nhlbi.nih.gov/ (Put HRT into the search box)

www.theonlineclinic.co.uk (Female Viagra information; flibanserin)

www.wildgenie.com (Alexandra Pope’s website)

www.daisynetwork.org.uk (network for early menopause)

www.earlymenopause.co.uk

www.thebms.org.uk/ (early onset menopause support)

www.fabafterfifty.co.uk (for older women)

So, Tell Me About Your Mother?

Good old Freud- he paints an interesting picture for us modern day Psychologists. Classic Freud, the whole psychodynamic perspective gave us a really good grounding in Psychology and how we worked as people. Rene Descartes, the French Philosopher was one of the great minds who started all this off, back in the 1600’s, when he postulated, “I think, therefore, I am”. Yes, the Greek Philosophers Socrates, Aristotle and Plato were the fore fathers of Psychology, but Descartes statement really hit home. The idea that the brain and the body were connected (Hothersall, 2003).

Psychology has come a long way since then. Freud really brought Psychology in to the main stream; but his work has left a bitter taste in many a Psychologists mouth. There is no doubt that Freud was hugely influential in the grounding of modern Psychology; if you ask the lay person about Psychology, I guarantee Freud is the first name that comes up, along with sniggers of Oedipal Complexes and ‘Tell me about your father/mother’ statements.


 

So, where have we come since then? Does Therapy still ask about your mother and father? And if so, why is it still important?

There are many different models of Psychological theory. One of these, that I ascribe too and, after working with client for so long, see in working practice every day, is Attachment Theory (Bowlby, 1969). So, what is it and why is it important to me?

Attachment theory is the work of two Psychologists- John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, the work of who was published in 1991. Quite a modern theory, you may notice, but Bowlby had been working on his theory for decades before this. Bowlby theorised that the relationships and bonds between people, in particular our early caregiver (traditionally the Mother, but this could also be an Father, Aunt, Step-Mother/Father, Foster Parent etc.) are intrinsically important in our ability to form relationships, romantic or otherwise. Bowlby described his theory as the ‘lasting psychological connectedness between human beings” (Bowlby, 1969). This was the result of decades of work, and has proven to be a very effective model.


 

So, what is it and why does it affect us?

Bowlby hypothesized that the main caregiver, who nourished, loved and cared for the child, created a bond with them, where the child learns that in times of fear or distress, the main caregiver provides comfort and reassurance. This is essential to the survival and wellbeing of human beings. By developing this bond and understanding, the child grows into a confident toddler, and therefore, a confident child, teenager and adult. The important aspect here is the bond between caregiver and child. It’s what gives the child confidence to explore the world- have you ever watched a toddler exploring a new place? They will go and look at toys, or crawl or wander over to another area, but a securely attached child will be able to do this, occasionally looking back to ensure that the caregiver is there, watching and waiting, should anything go wrong.

This is all part of normal, human development. By being responsive and available to the child’s needs, we are allowing them the space and security to be curious and investigate their surroundings. But what happens if this isn’t the case? And how might it affect me?


 

But why is my primary caregivers role so important?

In the 1950’s and 60’s an American Psychologist performed research on maternal deprivation, his name was Harry Harlow (Harlow, 1958). What Harlow did, was actually quite cruel, but gave a very good insight into the importance of the caregiver to an infant.

Harlow took newborn baby rhesus monkeys away from their mothers, and put them in a cage to live. In the cages were two wire monkey mothers. One of the wire monkeys held a bottle from which the infant monkey could obtain nourishment, while the other wire monkey was covered in a soft terry cloth. What Harlow found was that the monkeys would feed from the wire monkey with the bottle, but they would spend the majority of their days with the soft terry cloth ‘mother’. In times of fear and discomfort, the baby monkeys would instinctively head to the soft cloth ‘mothers’ for comfort and support.

From this, Harlow ascertained that the role of the caregiver is not just to do with nourishment, but a large proportion of the importance stems from the love and affection we get from a soft, loving, comforting parent.

A child whose primary caregiver was absent, or perhaps not as attentive as a caregiver should be, will develop in a different way. Perhaps your caregiver had PND (Post-natal depression) and found it difficult to develop a bond with you. Maybe your primary caregiver died, or was busy at work to keep the home above your heads. Perhaps the primary caregiver was cruel and did not show the amount of love we would hope a caregiver would give a child. We can then see how it might be difficult for that child to form the bond needed to allow them the space to be curious and to explore the world. A child, whose caregiver responds in this way, may become avoidant or ambivalently attached- this means that as you grow, you may find it difficult to develop and maintain a relationship- after all, your experience of relationships has not been a positive one.


 

So why does attachment matter? And why is it so important?

Well, a secure attachment base with out caregiver helps to increase our self-esteem, which is a rather large part of us and how we function. People, who have a secure attachment, as babies tend to be more independent, higher confidence levels, perform better in school, are less likely to suffer from depression and have more successful social relationships.

Low self-esteem issues can make the smallest things in life seem incredibly difficult. Perhaps you don’t have the confidence to ask for a pay rise, or the confidence to apply for a job or ask a girl/boy out? Low self-esteem can affect us in many ways, and it can be really difficult to build up, especially if you have no template of what self-esteem and confidence is!

Attachment issues can really affect some people, and for others, they manage to form secure and healthy attachments with no problem- like anything to do with the human Psyche, it is a very personal and unique experience for each person! How we deal with it can change from situation to situation; perhaps your new boss at work reminds you of your mother and how your relationship wasn’t easy, which in turn makes you unable to stand up to your boss, which means more work is heaped upon you. Attachment issues can affect us in many ways, and perhaps it isn’t until we have spoken to someone about this, that we know that it is affecting us.

I am not espousing that Attachment is the root of all evil, but if you are on the receiving end of a negative attachment experience, it really isn’t a pleasant feeling and you can carry it with you, and the effects it has, throughout your life. The thing is, you may not even be aware of your attachment difficulties- after all, didn’t we all have a ‘normal’ upbringing? What I think is ‘normal’ is different to what everyone else things is normal, so how do we know that our primary attachments weren’t nourishing? Sometimes, it is only through therapy that we can make sense of our experiences, and, as I said, all of our experiences are different, and unique to us!


 

Bowlby, J. (1969) Attachment. : Vol. 1. , New York: Basic Books.

Harlow, H. (1958) ‘The Nature of Love’, American Psychologist, vol. 13, pp. 673-685.

Hothersall, D. (2003) History of Psychology, 4th edition, New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.